In a wide ranging address to 500 delegates in Cork this afternoon, Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) General Secretary John MacGabhann tackled a number of issues relating to education and industrial relations including the campaign for pay equalisation, the funding crisis in Institutes of Technology and workload issues affecting members.
TUI's Annual Congress is taking place at the Clayton Silver Springs Hotel in Cork this week.
A selection of some key issues addressed is set out below.
Inequality – regional
We recognise the realities of Irish society – that inequity and disadvantage have regional dimensions, that some of the communities we serve are serially neglected in public policy. Therefore we see our members and the schools, institutes and centres they work in an integral part of community infrastructure.
In regard to strategy, the TUI is committed to making progress through negotiation while being able to deliver a mandate for action when required. Ours is a campaigning union, seeking improvement in members’ terms and conditions and also in the service provided to students and communities.
Mandate - May Agreement and LRA
At the turn of 2015/16, members of TUI, defined the issues of key importance to them and, in ballots, supported a clear strategy to pursue those issues. In pursuit of meaningful engagement with the Department of Education and Skills, members at third level took strike action on 3rd February, 2016. Further strike action by members in the other sectors, that had been scheduled for 24th February, was deferred when a credible offer was made by the Minister of precisely the engagement we demanded. However, the mandate for action remains, should it be needed.
New Entrant pay
Principal among those issues was new entrant pay. Therefore, from July 2016, the TUI was in a position to negotiate an improvement in the pay of those who entered teaching on or after 1st February, 2012. This improvement was agreed on 16th September and involved the restoration of the value of the Honours Primary Degree Allowance by its incorporation into a revised scale. This goes some but not all of the way towards bridging the pay gap between those appointed in 2011 and those appointed since 1 February 2012. It is an important step, not the full distance.
The TUI did not rest on its laurels. In October, we lodged a claim at the Teachers’ Conciliation Council for restoration of the H. Dip /Professional Master of Education allowance. In November, in the discussions convened at the invitation of the Chairperson of the Teachers’ Conciliation Council, we made progress on other matters of concern.
Casualisation - Part time and non-permanent: 59/2016
After a long hunt we have captured a target of real significance to teachers, in the mandatory mechanism and sequence for allocating new post/hours, in the first instance to existing part-time teachers, that are set out in Circular Letter 59/2016. As a result of this, members in part-time positions will see their hours and their pay increase. It has offended our sense of justice, has been a rough stone in our shoe, that for many years past the work of teaching and lecturing was being casualised. That casualisation commenced before ever there was an economic implosion as many employers took with feral glee, gusto and salivation to issuing fixed term, part-time contracts, fracturing jobs and robbing teachers blind. Previously, initial contracts had been permanent and, usually, full time.
The TUI has campaigned to neuter the beast that was loosed.
Through the Ward process, we got accelerated conversion to permanency – a CID is a permanent contract. Now, we have negotiated Circular letter 59/2016.
The sequence it sets out for filling posts/hours is mandatory. Lest there be anybody in management whose vocabulary is confined to single syllable words, mandatory means that it must be done. There is no opt out. There are no ifs, buts or – to move to two syllables – maybes.
Making Assurance doubly sure
However, colleagues, to make assurance doubly sure we need you, when you return to your respective workplaces, formally to approach management and insist that each and every hour that arises is offered, in the first instance, to an existing suitably qualified teacher who is on part-time hours.
Bear in mind that, in teaching terms, any additional hour secured by a member represents a 4 – 5% increase in salary. That is almost €1,500 per annum per additional hour. That is not insignificant. That is worth fighting for.
Cush - 3rd Level
Casualisation, as we know, is also corroding the third level sector, where some in management are attempting to suggest that new full-time posts cannot be regarded as hours that are available to existing part time lecturers under the Cush provisions. This is symptomatic of a magpie style of management that only see the lustre of the new and never the talent of the tried and tested. Our message to such management is clear. We have an agreement and we will ensure that it is enforced.
It is self-evident that the public education system is best served by having a highly motivated workforce. Motivation through fear may work briefly but fear quickly converts to resentment. The stability that the system requires and the continuity that students require are best served when teachers and lecturers have conditions that align with the principle of fairness that our society claims to espouse.
Lessons from abroad
We have seen the effects on public education systems where tenure and permanency have been removed, where command and control are exercised by charlatans who don’t know their Arts from their elbow. We must fight to avoid that fate in Ireland and we must win that fight.
The President in her address will speak to you about the upcoming pay talks. However, in advance of that, it would be remiss of me not to express the grave concern of the TUI about the deplorable – and wholly avoidable – housing crisis, marked at one extreme by the trauma and personal catastrophe of homelessness and, at the other, by speculative price-gouging facilitated by a frankly daft belief in the private sector and the market. Let’s be clear, a pay rise won’t solve the housing crisis. In fact, if housing supply is not increased, pay rises may have the unintended consequence of driving purchase and rental costs upwards. Therefore, beyond what will be captured by any pay agreement, we also need to signal from this Congress that measures must be taken by government to address the supply and the rising cost of accommodation, both in respect of house purchase and rental. The trade unions, acting collectively through the ICTU, are seeking immediate, ongoing and guaranteed investment by the state and the re-emergence of the state as a builder of and not simply a purchaser of housing.
Investment in education
A high quality public Education system, colleagues, is recognised by all but the ideologically myopic as a cornerstone of a democratic and sophisticated society where equality is the norm. However, the undisputed fact is that, at all levels, funding has been very severely cut and that at third level the cuts have been deepest and most damaging. The message, you would imagine, is clear – invest. Why then is government dithering?
Perhaps some miss the giddy intoxication of cutting – the ECF high. Perhaps others long for the sugar-daddy economics of philanthropy – a pipedream. Yet others may be possessed of a victorian determination to make the lesser orders pay, lest they develop any sense of entitlement as citizens.
Crisis – Third Level
Colleagues, there is a funding crisis in third level. To suggest otherwise is to whistle past the graveyard. This crisis needs to be addressed as a matter of extreme urgency.
Government must jettison its ideological baggage, properly invest in education and properly acknowledge that third level education is an intrinsic part of the social contract – a right of those who wish to attend rather than a privilege for those who do.
Income Contingent Loans are privatisation
The imposition of a scheme of income contingent loans – favoured in the Cassells report - is not investment; it is privatisation.
Adding to personal debt or creating a newly indebted generation by way of income contingent loans is neither financially nor socially appropriate. In any event, the Income Contingent Loan scheme, conceived of a stallion (by the Cassells Expert Group) has the cut of a gelding. It just won’t work.
We believe that third level education, as part of the social contract, should be funded from government revenues, that is from taxation – and the TUI has no wish to be coy when it comes to taxation.
The tax base is currently too narrow and the tax take is not large enough. Ours is a low tax economy, although free market commentators would have you believe otherwise.
To have the level and quality of public services that we demand, we must, unavoidably and in honesty, conclude that additional taxation is required.
Whence that taxation comes is then the issue. For its part, TUI has made the serious proposal that a 1% levy should be applied to corporation profits in order to generate a dedicated fund for higher education. Why, we may be asked, should corporate profits be levied in this manner? For the very simple reason that to do so is fair and, indeed, provides those corporations with an opportunity clearly to demonstrate what they claim to have but what is little in evidence, that is commitment to the society in which they base their enterprise.
These corporations benefit hugely from having available to them a very deep pool of graduate talent in this country – supplied courtesy of the Irish tax payer. In 2015, the levy we suggest would have yielded some €550 million - an investment that would have done very nicely indeed in terms of resuscitating the exhausted and gaunt figure that is the Irish third level education system.
Where management structures in both schools and colleges are concerned, we have had a decade of disinvestment rather than investment. This has wrought havoc. Not much short of €50 million per annum has been taken out of the primary and post-primary system because of the attrition of posts of responsibility. What is scandalous, is that schools have been shorn of the very structures and resources that government policy disingenuously assumes them to have. This dislocation between the facts on the ground and the theory propounded in government utterance is an act of wilful incoherence, cynically intended to suggest that schools can function effectively for students in need of support even when the wherewithal so to do has been removed by edict. Therefore, the commitment in Budget 2017 to the restoration across the primary and post-primary sectors of some 1,000 Assistant Principal positions (or an equivalent mix of Assistant Principal and Special Duties posts) is to be welcomed. However, it is a start – no more than that.
Technological Universities Bill
TUI has a number of concerns over the Technological Universities Bill
Firstly, a number of Institutes are already of a scale that is greater than the scale reached by some of the universities at the time they became universities. We hold that it should be open to an individual Institute of Technology, if it meets the criteria set out and has the requisite scale, to apply for designation as a Technological University, without being yoked by violence to another institute that is an unwilling partner in a forced marriage.
Secondly, on the question of governance, we have repeatedly pointed out the sheer impracticality and folly in an Irish context of seeking remotely to govern institutions that have a critical remit in terms of specific regional provision. The oddly formed beast that would be the necklace technological university, could not possibly function with any degree of coherence were the governing structure proposed in the legislation to be imposed upon it.
Thirdly, Government should stop kicking itself with its right foot on its left ankle as the consequence of doing this to excess is that everything falls on its posterior. Rather than obsess about merger, the government should be making shift to ensure that the conditions exist for progression towards Technological Universities. Government should invest in the sector. Grandiose plans or policies, without the necessary investment, have no foundation in reality. They are an exercise in codology.
Where Youthreach is concerned colleagues, investment has been as rare as feathers on a fish. The TUI is putting the government, the Department of Education and Skills and the employers on notice that this forgotten child of the system will be forgotten no longer. Youthreach has subsisted, very often with sub-standard equipment, in sub-optimal environments. This neglect is indicative of a more general attitude towards the marginalised. It says to them that if you don’t announce your presence you will be ignored. Well, we are announcing their presence and they will not be ignored. It is time for government to decide that those it has regarded as ineducable will at last be afforded the dignity of an education and that those who teach them will be regarded as educators, not simply as custodians of a holding bay.
Workload and time
In shaping strategy to shape events, we have made the clear, undeniable connection between workload and your time. Increased workload robs you of time.
This has informed our strategic approach to re-designation of the first flex hour and will do so again in respect of the remaining flex hour.
It also informed our approach to Droichead, where we want an induction system that works both for the new entrant and the school, but not at the expense of your time.
In regard to the Youthreach operator guidelines, we sought and secured your permission to issue directives in the event that demands were made upon you which represented an encroachment on your time.
In our discussions with ETBI and SOLAS regarding conditions for grades in further and adult education, our concern was similar; to ensure that you have time for a life beyond work.
Where principals, deputy principals and others in academic management roles are required to make returns, we have sought to ensure that software systems are in place that make such returns manageable so that your time is not excessively absorbed.
In respect of Junior Cycle we sought and got professional time within timetable – to protect your time
I wish to turn briefly to the theme of Teacher Unity.
It may seem at odds with the prevailing circumstances to renew the call I have made at each Congress over recent years for real movement towards teacher unity but I believe that the current circumstances are precisely what argue most forcefully for unity. Were there a single teacher union at this point in time we would undoubtedly have challenges but they would be different from the challenges we currently face.
Teacher Union Co-operation
Through the course of the year, the TUI has ensured that a respectful, cooperative relationship has been maintained with our colleague trade unionists in the ASTI, IFUT and the INTO.
We have, of course, been at pains to ensure that TUI and ASTI fully respect the position of the other and have periodically issued advice to members in this regard, as you will see in the Annual Report. Both unions are headed towards the destination of pay parity. By the sovereign decision of members, expressed in ballots, we in TUI have chosen our strategic route; likewise, our colleagues have chosen their route through their structures.